Charlene Soraia's ability to split her voice into ultra-shrill harmonics is a talent.
There was a chap a few years ago with an act entitled 'The Puppetry of the Penis' who was able to make his foreskin look like the Eiffel Tower. That too, is a talent. To paraphrase Jeff Goldblum's character in Jurassic Park though: all this effort spent figuring out what we *can* do, we should have been figuring out whether or not we *should*.
Oh it'll be popular. It'll shift units. A populace attuned to TV talent shows as arbiters of taste will wolf down Soraia's otherworldly ability to emulate the screech of fork scraping on plate. Nothing sells better than the vocal wobbles of young women twisting single-syllable words into tragic epics of Ibsen-esque pathos. Wring it out, warble it up and down the octaves, emote, strain and force it until you're cancelling concerts in favour of laryngectomy.
Soraia's otherworldly ability to emulate the screech of fork scraping on plate
Anything less is no longer considered a Good Voice. At least not amongst the voice coaches of the Brit School (for she is yet another alumnus), who ought to consider a sideline in reconstructive throat surgery. Jessie J will surely be a patient sometime soon, and she's made it quite clear that she's not happy going to the same hospitals as the proles. Adele's been pretty outspoken about her lack of confidence in the NHS too, come to think of it. What was it she called it, after she learned that she was expected to pay tax towards its upkeep? ('Shit', was the term of choice. Not surprising she's had her recent throat surgery done in California.)
Soraia has lovely diction, a clear and clean tone, and a winsome Edie Brickel kookiness to her readymeals-for-one, walking in the park and thinking about kissing songs. She may even have a ukulele, who knows? It really is quite difficult to concentrate on exactly what instruments feature on the album – the soporific quality of the songs takes over after a few minutes.
readymeals-for-one, walking in the park and thinking about kissing songs
It might be an ideal lullaby album, only for the ever-present threat that she is going to unleash the screech at any moment. When it does come, it is with the random, unpredictable devastation of a San Francisco earthquake. On the second track, she goes head-to-head with a jobbing trumpeter blowing harmonics and an ill-advised programmer getting carried away with upper-register Abisynth improvisation. Meanwhile, plants wilt and dogs proceed to bleed from the ears.
'Strolling past the daffodils, I won't forget how it feels, to be lost in a maze.
Laying on the sun-kissed patch of ground we found, round the back of that palace garden place'
(Acoustic guitars, some brass instrumentation to add a bit of weight, a middle-eight with a bit of a guitar solo, laid-back Norah Jones vocal.) Songwriting by numbers. Next!
What is next then? A jaunty little Penny Lane-esque ditty of girl getting winsome: 'I love you, I hate you, I miss you…etc'. This time it's a bit of breathy flute, a touch of chugging cello. Actually, if the voice was a bit warmer and a touch less GCSE Music and Drama, it could be a Rumer song.
There's a sort of tension going on in the album, almost as if there's one voice which is pleading to do something a little more edgy and innovative, being drowned out by a louder voice yelling about giving the punters what they want. FLOWERS! DREAMS! CHOCOLATE! KISSING! WHAT'S IT CALLED? MOONCUP? NO? MOONCHILD? PERFECT!
Perhaps in the next song she'll track down a really pretty 50s print frock in a vintage clothes shop that no-one seems to have found yet. Shriek! Nowhere has the phrase 'write what you know' been so stolidly adhered to. Sound advice, no-one ever got a number one hit by singing about dancing zombies or evacuating Earth for Venus, after all, did they?
evocative of the crust on a calorie-free crème brulee
The brittle, sugary thinness of it all is evocative of the crust on a calorie-free crème brulee. Honky-tonk electric guitar licks fart their way all over 'Meadow Child', utterly failing to bring a Laurel Canyon bohemian freewheeling vibe to the piece, instead evoking Tom Waits's eternal image of 'Stratocasters slung over Burgermeister beerguts'. It's interminable – this squeaky-clean girlishness. Soporific, formulaic, and written as if with the sole intention of featuring as the soundbed for sanitary towel advertisements.
Quirky ditty? Tick. Kooky lovesong? Tick. Plaintive ballad? Tick. Swingy popsong? Tick.
More than anything, Moonchild reminds of those early seventies albums by people like James Taylor, where the big hit was already in the bag and the rest of the tracks got filled out with whatever inanity happened to be floating around the vocalist's mind at the time.
You know that Taylor already had the singles written by the time he blurts out lines like 'I'm a cement mixer for you baby – a churning urn of burning funk'. Soraia's album feels similar – she's had the hit single 'Wherever You Will Go'. The limp non-committal fillers offer little more sustenance than reading the Facebook feeds of bored office girls posting motivational quotations and pictures of kittens falling over. Until….
'I think I'll have a baby with a man who beats me
Who abuses and confuses me and also threatens to kill me'
'I'm bipolar, nobody knows it but me ….babies don't need daddies, fathers can be forgotten'
Actually, she is cyclothymic, and is hence immune to all criticism of insensitivity. There, in a deft stroke, we have the magic of the press release. She is allowed to write bludgeoning lyrics about bipolar depression because she suffers from something a bit like it, but we are also expected to acknowledge the implied tortured genius that very occasionally accompanies the condition.
She is allowed to write bludgeoning lyrics about bipolar depression because she suffers from something a bit like it
The long-term effects of Tegretol and Lithium on the metabolism; the continuing social stigma; the depression; the appalling suicide rate; the soul-crushing finality of a lifetime's dependency on expensive pharmaceutical products, yes, there is potential there for a song. A sensitive treatment of any of the aforementioned issues would be wonderful. Forget sensitivity – a raging monologue of vented first-hand frustration would make sense too. A voyeuristic walkthrough of sensationalistic tabloid symptoms and passive-aggressive uber-kookiness though? No thanks.
'Babies don't need daddies', err? Position your album firmly at the muesli and quiche end of the market by all means, pet, but leave the virulent sexism disguised as sisterhood out of it, ok?
There are interesting moments in the rest of the album, particularly 'Postcards from Io'. It goes a bit introspective and brooding, as if someone got a hold of Jonno McCleery's 'There Is' and thought it would be nice to swipe a few of the ideas, but throw in a few Florence Welsh vocal tics to make sure it still appeals to the girls having drinks in nice bright pubs on Friday after work. But by the time she's back to her habitual Edie Brickel-meets-Kate Nash brand of chic-lit wisdom in innoffensively-quirky musical form, the damage is done.
The twin threat of the random bat-screech, and the worry that the next song might choose the tetchy outbursts of sufferers of Menieres's disease or the unsightliness of Autoimmune Vasculitis for subject matter looms constant. It somewhat destroys the wispy ethereal atmosphere she strives so gamely to create with jaunty one-take mandolin/vocal cuts (we hear her talking to producer Paul Stacey before the song starts, so it MUST be spontaneous) about moons and meadows.
Nor does the sub-polka throb and faux-Wicca mention of wishing wells and dandelion wine in 'Wishing You Well' rescue the illusion. It's as gone as if the pretty new primary teacher had stamped the school hamsters to death in a fit of pique and then just expected everyone to get back to painting rainbows.
Nice pretty words like 'crimson' and 'courtyard' crop up, just in case anyone was unaware that this is a songwriter of erudition and taste
Oh there are more tracks, certainly. Hundreds of them, it feels like. Nice pretty words like 'crimson' and 'courtyard' crop up, just in case anyone was unaware that this is a songwriter of erudition and taste. There is warbling, trilling, cheeky faux-stuttering, flannely trumpet harmonisations and even the confession that she almost 'stole a book' (for her projected demographic, such a crime ranks alongside leaving the toilet seat up – hanging's too good for 'em).
Peacefrog records (formerly best-known as Little Dragon's label) also lists synaesthesia in the psychiatric case notes that grace Soraia's artist biography. Synaesthesia describes a condition whereby patients confuse sensory stimuli and are able to feel sounds, taste colours, etc. For Soraia, the symptoms are happily benign – she uses the condition as a creative tool. 'When I create music, I sit in a colour which is usually dependant on the timbre that I'm playing'
Presumably, Moonchild was written in a brown room that whiffed a bit.
By the time the album finally crawls to the Bridget Jones broken heart montage soundtrack that is 'Wherever You Will Go', the urge to go monster trucking, drink beer, put up shelves and kick cats is overwhelming. Anything to reassert some sort of hormonal balance. Moonchild provides more oestrogen than a hen party in a WellWoman clinic. At Easter.
go monster trucking, drink beer, put up shelves and kick cats
The Hit needs little deconstruction, it's lodged into the playlists of every media outlet with sonic playback capability in the free world. It is X-Factor auditions in its emoted straining, dripping with pathos, delivered in a voice which tears audibly at volume and fails utterly to reach the high notes with any degree of control or tone.
It is a 125cc scooter of a voice, faced with a steep hill. To imagine the song performed by a capable vocalist (Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, name your poison) is to illustrate how far popular taste has descended; how far the confusion between a good voice and a histrionic overblown squawk has prevailed.
The sad thing is that Soraia has, within the octaves of a limited range, a clear, clean, attractive voice. Not a Great voice by any means, but a pleasant one. Occasionally, on Moonchid, we hear it. Mostly though, it is ruined by crowd-pleasing vocal gymnastics and irritating tics. A pity. Nevertheless, the album will doubtless go platinum, and everything you read about her will gush gibberish about how she's the new Joni Mitchell, voice of an angel, still shops at Zara, does her own make-up, blah blah blah.
Charlene Soraia's Moonchild will be available from November 21st.
Sean Keenan used to write. Now he edits, and gets very annoyed about the word ‘ethereal’. Likely to bite anyone using the form ‘I’m loving….’. Don’t start him on the misuse of three-dot ellipses.
Divides his time between mid-Spain and South-West France, like one of those bucktoothed, fur-clad minor-aristocracy ogresses you see in Hello magazine, only without the naff chandeliers.